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Comics Artist Eddie Campbell

In an interview not long before his comic FROM HELL was made into a movie, I talked to Eddie Campbell about his life, his comics and his reading.

A boring job when he left school was a boon for Eddie Campbell’s reading life.

Raised in Scotland, he had a less than encouraging education. “I was a disaster at school. I daydreamed my way through it. Total disaster,” he said.

“I left school and ended up working in a factory for five years. In England, near London.”

Even though his job at the factory was monotonous, cutting sheet metal into little squares, he said it was the most interesting time of his life because it was when he found himself.

“They had trouble getting someone to work this machine for any length of time because it was so mind-numbingly boring,” he said.

“I did it for five years but they allowed me to construct a little lectern on which I put my books.

“And I read while I was cutting the sheet metal and they turned a blind eye.”

Comics artist Eddie Campbell is probably best known for his comic FROM HELL, about the Jack the Ripper murders and the royal cover-up conspiracy theories, which was made into a film starring Johnny Depp.

But his work in general has been a big influence on comics artists and writers, and he has been written about in extensive articles in The Comics Journal, the world’s leading magazine of comics criticism.

He is the veteran of many comics conventions in the U.S. where his comics sell in the tens of thousands.

And his work is translated into Japanese and other languages.

But it was a long road and over a Guinness in an Irish pub in Brisbane, about the time of the making of From Hell, the movie, Campbell told me a bit about his life and his reading.

Back when he was working in the sheet metal factory he read a book a day, Mr Campbell said.

He read anything he could get his hands on: logic, philosophy, comparative religion, mythology, James Bond, the history of art, trash, and his hero Henry Miller, author of such classics as TROPIC OF CAPRICORN, and TROPIC OF CANCER.

Campbell said Miller’s book, THE COLOSSUS OF MAROUSSI, was “Undoubtedly his best work”.

As the title suggests, it was set in Greece, like Campbell’s comic, BACCHUS, about a wine-loving Greek god wandering through history.

Campbell decided to be an artist and left the factory to live in London in the late 1970s, early ’80s.

He got together with some friends who were also into drawing comics, and they’d photocopy their work and send it to each other.

Then he started drawing comics for rock music papers, then smaller U.K. comics publishers, and then the larger comics publishers in the U.S., like Tundra and Dark Horse.

In 1983 he made his first visit to Australia with his wife-to-be and he drew stories about Australia, particularly North Queensland, which he published in LITTLE ITALY (1991).

Campbell moved to Australia permanently in 1987.

In the late 1980s he started drawing his best-known character, BACCHUS.

Bacchus reveals Campbell’s fascination with mythology, Greece, and wine.

“I was amused for a while by the idea that making wine was an art,” he said.

“I thought about that for a while. It gave me a lot of interesting ideas.

“I investigated it thoroughly, bottle by bottle.”

Although many of the issues of Bacchus are set in Greece, Campbell said he had never been there.

“Greece is one of the most photographed places in the world,” he said.

Then came the FROM HELL collaboration with Alan Moore, which Moore wrote and Campbell drew.

Eddie Campbell said Alan Moore had seen an eight-page story Eddie Campbell drew about the Pyjama Girl case – an Australian murder – and this led to the From Hell collaboration.

From Hell is about the Jack the Ripper murders and the royal cover-up conspiracy theories associated with it.

“The world likes conspiracy theories because it would horrify us to think things happen randomly,” Eddie Campbell said.

“We like to think there’s some order to the mayhem and bedlam, things that go wrong in the world.”

The comic was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, and directed by the Hughes Brothers (Dead Presidents).

The movie was filmed in Prague, because Prague was the closest the film-makers could find to London’s East End in 1888.

Meanwhile, Campbell continues self-publishing comics like From Hell, Bacchus, and his autobiographic comic, ALEC, which he had printed in Canada and distributed throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.

He said he made a “very comfortable living”, although he sometimes sweated between cheques. But he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

In his book, ALEC: HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, about Alec’s bohemian life in London in the late ’70s, Campbell outlines a philosophy of life inspired by Claude Monet.

“I’ve extrapolated an idea of his where he said you can’t paint a picture until you have it in your head first,” Campbell said.

“And I’ve extrapolated it into the idea that you can’t have a life unless you envision it first. You can’t create a career for yourself unless you have it in your head first.”